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'Death panel' controversy remains very much alive

Even some conservatives call the issue bogus. Meanwhile, the healthcare debate shifts to 'rationing.'

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“There is a lot of heavily loaded, coded language being thrown around, of which ‘death panels’ is at the top of the list,” says Mr. Schaller.

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President Obama has called the allegation an “extraordinary lie.” On Friday, the liberal group Americans United for Change launched a cable TV ad calling insurance companies “the real ‘death panels’ ” for allegedly denying care in the past to patients with life-threatening conditions.

Conservatives have denounced the charge, too – the conservative magazine National Review ran an editorial calling the “death panel” discussion “hysteria.”

Some Republicans, however, quickly pivot from “death panel” discussion to the subject of “rationing.” It’s an issue on which they may feel that opponents of healthcare reform are on much firmer ground.

Asked whether he believed the health bills would set up “death panels,” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele in an Aug. 19 broadcast interview said that House members were putting in place a structure that could cause concern about people’s end-of-life decisions.

“You can call [it] a panel. I call it rationing,” Mr. Steele told interviewer Joe Scarborough on MSNBC.

The debate over possible rationing of care usually involves different sections of the pending legislation than does the “death panel” controversy.

The House bill would set up a comparative effectiveness panel, for instance – a government-appointed board of experts to try to determine what treatments are better than others. In addition, a separate panel would advise Medicare and Medicaid officials of ways in which they might approve the efficiency of their treatment delivery.

Combine these elements in an environment in which the government is looking to cut future costs, and you might have a recipe for rationing care, according to critics of the legislative effort.

Administration officials reject this charge, however. They say there is already rationing in the healthcare system. Denying someone private health insurance because they have a preexisting condition is “rationing, to me,” said Vice President Joe Biden at a panel discussion Thursday on healthcare reform in Chicago.

“We’re not rationing anything. We’re trying to eliminate what is a de facto rationing that’s [already] going on,” said Mr. Biden.

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